Play Berhana on a cloudy day, and the sun might make an appearance. The Atlanta-born and LA-based artist makes glimmering music with a nostalgic twinge. He doesn’t rest his laurels on memories, though. The music has the sheen of the present with a retro feel. It’s about balance with 27-year-old Berhana. And homage. And timing.
In 2016, the artist released a self-titled debut EP, dipped from the net, and then returned strong in 2018 with the release of “Whole Wide World,” plus a handful of other singles. In an era where artists are pushed to release more, more, more, at a faster, faster, faster rate, Berhana’s pace is refreshing, if not surprising.
“It gives me my time to grow,” Berhana tells me of his pace. “It allows my taste to change and allows me to learn things, live life.”
Berhana’s upcoming debut album, HAN, due out later this year, is equal turns comical, intentional, and groovy. Languid melodies spiral slowly out of speakers, with Berhana’s coarsely silky vocals adding just enough texture to the bubbling synths. There’s a simmering quality to HAN, something about the project reads as measured. Teetering on understated at times, (“Lucky Strike,”) and blanketing at others, (“Drunk,”) Berhana captures the enveloping and yearning (“California”) nature of summer at the tail end of the season. As the days get colder and fall creeps up, consider HAN a case of sonic whiplash. But, remember, Berhana creates music on his clock. Time is merely a Western construction.
“You’re making something for just yourself,” he tells me. “But you do have to remember that there are other people who want to listen to your songs and they have an idea of what they want from you. I don’t know what day or when it was, but this is all I have. My art. This is it. If I’m not gonna do what it is I want to do, then what’s it all for?”
For now, it’s all for a glimmering debut album and a strong message to fans. Though we don’t get into his future, something tells me the days ahead for Berhana are as bright as the music he’s making in the present. Only time—the time Berhana takes as he pleases—will tell.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: In the past, you’ve been called “focused” and “calculated.” Where does that methodology come from? Especially now, when everything feels so rushed.
Berhana: That’s a great question. For me, when I think of music or really anything I’m creating, I think “This is gonna be here forever.” Even though the climate that we live in now is “Get as much out as you can,” I know that [the music] is gonna live beyond me. So why not take that little bit of extra time to make sure it’s the thing I intended it to be? That’s the easy answer.
What’s the virtue you’ve found in taking your time with your releases? How does slowing things down impact your creative process?
It allows me to not only make music but to grow. It will enable my taste to change and allows me to learn things, live life. That’s what the new music is inspired by. If you hear this new album, it doesn’t sound like the EP, nor do I want it to. I’ve grown! I think that’s a cool thing. By taking my time the way I am, it’s allowed me to grow.
You’ve also referred to yourself as fearless, which I love. How long did it take you to become fearless with your career?
Wow, it took me a while! You’re making something for just yourself. But you do have to remember other people want to listen to your songs and they have an idea of what they want from you. I don’t know what day or when it was, but this is all I have. My art. This is it. If I’m not gonna do what it is I want to do, then what’s it all for? The only reason people like my songs anyway is because I was doing me. I was focusing on what I wanted to do and what I wanted to make. It’s important not to lose that.
Having made your career off shorter projects and singles, what was the biggest challenge approaching a full-length effort?
The details. When you’re just doing one song or a smaller collection of songs, it’s just a little bit easier. When you have a full-length piece and something you want to be cohesive and feel like one thing, it’s important to pay attention to the little details. That’s what’s gonna make it special. With this, that was my only concern, making sure all the details were there.
Which song on HAN was your favorite to make?
That’s hard! They’re my babies. I guess, if I had to pick a song right now, I’d probably [pick] “G2G.” It’s so outside of the box. It started as a joke, and it morphed into this cool thing. We built out these different sections. It was like a project in and of itself. I’m proud of that one.
Your music has such sunny energy to it; how do you maintain that aura and balance?
I think that’s just sitting with the songs... At the surface, it might seem simple, but a lot of songs have little complexities that we’ve focused on. You can catch onto new things. With this new album, that was one of our biggest things. If you listen to it again, you’re going to catch something you didn’t catch the first time. And that goes for the third and fourth time, too. That helps.
With your music being so bright, do you create on days where you’re feeling shitty?
Oh, for sure. I love making music when I feel shitty. A lot of the songs that I make, even though they may sound bright, what I’m writing about sometimes is shitty. The sonic palette sounds happy. It’s tight that the concept and words are sad, but the sounds you hear are a little bit happier. But to answer your question, I make music when I feel shitty.
How does that help you feel better?
It depends. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you feel a great sense of relief, and other times you don’t. It just depends on the day and what it [is] you’re going through.
What do you want to say to fans who have been patiently waiting for the album?
First off, I would say, “Thank you so much for rocking with me and waiting this extended amount of time.” We live in a climate where music gets pushed out so quick, and I don’t do that. With this project, I ask that you sit with it for a while. Don’t hit shuffle. Let it play from top to bottom, and see if you like it. Maybe you’ll like it on the fourth listen, you never really know. I want people to sit with it and listen.